Monday 15 February 2021

William Nicholson: 'Digging bits of trombone out of the lawn'

Reading about the painter William Nicholson, I learn that his father, who ran a large ironworks in Newark, was one of that town's two MPs, elected in 1880 in the Conservative interest. When the result became known, supporters of Nicholson and of the Liberal who was elected with him took to the streets to make their feelings known. As the Newark Advertiser reported, 'Several free fights occurred and black eyes and broken heads appeared to be exceedingly common. A gang of roughs attacked several Conservative houses [pubs as well as private residences]. The Clnton Arms had a few broken windows. The most damage was, however, done at the Robin Hood. At this house nearly every pane of glass at the front was broken, and considerable damage done. The Generous Briton [great name] was also attacked, and at Mr White's house in Balderstongate a number of panes were broken. Not content with this damage, the Liberal mob ... proceeded to Mr Nicholson's house on the London road. Here they vented their feelings by pelting stones at the windows, and hooting and shouting. We understand it was about nine o'clock at night when a large mob proceeded to Mr Nicholson's residence on South Parade, and attempted to get into the grounds. Fortunately the gates were locked, and their efforts being frustrated, they commenced to throw stones and brickbats at the windows, about twelve panes of glass were broken. The mob had scarcely left before the report of the outrage was communicated to some of Messrs Nicholson's workmen, and a body of 50 or 60 of them proceeded to Mr Nicholson's residence and remained up to midnight to protect the premises.'
  Meanwhile, inside the Nicholson house (this is from Marguerite Steen's biography of Nicholson), 'Hardly was dinner over, or the popping of champagne corks abated, when an uproar outside and the crashing of panes of glass announced the arrival of the Liberal mob, rum-valiant, and out to avenge the defeat of one of their candidates. Someone rushed into the little bedroom where William [eight years old at the time] lay, far too excited to sleep: turned out the light and snatched him out of bed – just in time, for a brick crashed through the window and landed within an inch of the pillow on which his head had been laid. And while Mr Nicholson, snatching a Turkish cutlass from the wall, defied the mob in true heroic fashion on the doorstep, Uncle Fred Prior was out and away, across the flower-beds and walls, to summon the defensive army which, apprehending some such reprisal as this, he had warned to lie in readiness. These stalwarts came up, taking the Liberals – who had brought a brass band with them – in the rear ... and William spent the next few weeks digging bits of trombone out of the lawn.'
   It's easy to forget what a violent, rough-and-tumble affair electoral politics was before things quietened down in the 20th century. 
I am reminded of another political riot in a Mercian town, this one making a target of Joseph Priestley, better known to posterity as a great scientist.

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